Autopsy & forensics

Autopsy report

Summary & opinion, expert testimony

Last author update: 1 January 2013
Last staff update: 3 November 2020

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PubMed search: Forensic [title] final autopsy diagnosis

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Table of Contents
Definition / general
Cite this page: Tops TL. Summary & opinion, expert testimony. website. Accessed March 27th, 2023.
Definition / general
  • In outline form, the FAD summarizes the pertinent autopsy findings, categories may include: Cause of Death / COD (natural or unnatural), natural diseases or pre-existing conditions, evidence of medical / surgical therapy, postmortem changes, identifying body marks, and toxicology
COD (natural or unnatural)
  • Complications of hemorrhagic stroke, drowning, asphyxia by hanging, etc.
Natural diseases or pre-existing conditions
  • State any additional microscopic diagnoses here
  • Hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, type II diabetes, etc.
Evidence of medical / surgical therapy
  • Cardiac pacemaker, internal fixation of left tibia, CABG, etc.
Postmortem changes
  • Decomposition, marbling, skin slippage, etc.
Identifying body marks
  • Tattoos on the arms, forearms, right calf, etc.
  • Can be broken down by volatiles (ethanol in blood and vitreous fluid) and drugs (medications or illicit drugs found in blood or urine)
  • Probably the most important section of the autopsy report that will be read by lawyers, judges, law enforcement, insurance companies, lay public, and most importantly the decedent's family members
  • A well written and thought out opinion may reduce the need for the pathologist to be summoned to testify in a courtroom
  • An opinion section links the COD with MOD and describes all pertinent findings in paragraph form
  • The opinion section needs to be precise, factual, logical
  • Depending on the complexity of the case, an opinion section may be a few short sentences or several pages
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